The Board of Investment (BOI) of Sri Lanka recently hosted a delegation consisting of 26 foreign diplomats from 20 countries who are currently undergoing training at the Bandaranaike International Diplomatic Training Institute (BIDTI).
The group of diplomats was from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Ethiopia, Fiji, Iran, Iraq, Kenya, Laos, Malaysia, the Maldives, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, Palestine, Papua New Guinea, Seychelles, Tanzania, Thailand, Vietnam and also Sri Lanka.
The group was led by BIDTI Director General Pamela Deen assisted by several officers of the institute. The overseas diplomats are part of a programme set up under the guidance of former Foreign Minister the late Lakshman Kadirgamar, who introduced the programme in 1997 to build up closer relations between Sri Lanka and other developing countries, with the objective of strengthening South – South international co-operation.
BOI Chairman Upul Jayasuriya briefed the delegation on the role of the BOI, which was established in 1978. Jayasuriya described the important role of the organisation in opening up Sri Lanka’s economy to international trade and investment.
Furthermore, Sri Lanka was the first country in the South Asian region to liberalize its economy, just after Singapore in Southeast Asia. The first BOI Zone was in fact opened shortly after the establishment of the board and this was followed by the second zone in Biyagama.
Jayasuriya also added that the current government, which was also in power in 1978, was very keen to fast track investment approvals in Sri Lanka.
He stated that BOI enjoys many powers in the area of immigration control, inland revenue, exchange control and customs to facilitate the international investor community. Sri Lanka would have achieved considerable benefits had it not been for the conflict which erupted in 1983.
However, Jayasuriya said that currently the BOI is looking at implementing new improvements to fast rack investment so that the investor can focus on his or her business rather than spending time in obtaining approvals. He added that a new Constitution is being drafted in Sri Lanka and this would address the requirements of the investor community.
Currently nearly 2000 enterprises operate under the regime of the BOI of which only about 300 are actually located at the Export Processing Zones.
Hence, the mandate of the BOI has grown as well as the diversity of the investments. To conclude, Jayasuriya stated that the BOI wants to achieve a situation where “we are both pragmatic and practical.”
Deen added that former China Communist Party General Secretary Jiang Zemin had visited the BOI Zone in Katunayake in the early 1980s. This was many years before the Chinese economy was liberalized.
Assisting Jayasuriya were Executive Director Promotion Prasanjith Wijayathilake and Director Media and Publicity Dilip S. Samarasinghe. The delegation was shown the BOI corporate video and they were briefed on Sri Lanka’s investment climate by Samarasinghe.
Sri Lanka had indeed been a pioneer in the field of zone development but had lagged behind during the conflict years. The BOI also arranged for the diplomats to visit the Katunayake Export Processing Zone where they were briefed on zone management by KEPZ Director/Industrial Relations Himali Urugodawatte. The diplomats also visited two enterprises located in the KEPZ namely Okaya Lanka (Pvt.) Ltd, a Japanese electronics component manufacturer, and the MAS Shadowline (Pvt.) Ltd factory, specialized in making sportswear. The visit by this delegation of diplomats to the BOI helped create a better understanding of Sri Lanka’s economic potential.